When new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited China last month, he announced that the Philippines will separate from the United States—politically and economically.
But back at home, after cozying up to China, Duterte said he just wanted an independent foreign policy and was not cutting diplomatic ties with its traditional ally.
As Ariel Carlos and Jofelle Tesorio report from Palawan, Philippines, not every Filipino is supportive of this move.
It’s a busy day in the Philippines. Every November 1, the whole country flocks to local cemeteries to visit the graves of their departed loved ones.
Despite the observance of All Saint’s Day, there is no escaping the hottest issue at the moment—the Philippines embracing China and separating from the US.
We chanced upon 68-year-old retired government employee Patricio Cojamco, who is very upset about it.
“I’m not in favour of the Philippines getting closer to China. If President Duterte wants to be with China, we do not want to be part of this. He can do it alone. I have a bit of Chinese blood but I don’t want us Filipinos to become communists,” Cojamco told us.
79-year old businesswoman Virginia Mendoza shares her concerns too.
“Duterte says China will give us 25 billion dollars for our economy. How easy can he fall into this trap? America has been giving us aid and helping us. He is just now asking from China,” Mendoza said.
Many Filipinos have less affinity with China, than the US.
That’s 20-year-old University of the Philippines student, Myke Cohen. He is half American.
“We usually have this connotation that the Chinese are opportunists who are just looking for business investments, gains and profits and all of those things. There is a tendency to view them as suspicious and sort of conniving,” Cohon said.
The Philippines traditionally relates more to the US than any neighbouring country in Asia.
Over 3.4 million Filipinos are living in the US and they send home almost 10 billion dollars of remittances every year.
92 per cent of the Filipinos view the United States positively, the highest country in the world, according to a 2015 Pew Center research.
So the Philippine pivot to China is not going down that well.
Again, 20-year-old student Myke Cohen.
“It makes the Philippines so inconsistent with the side it’s been with since the birth of the Philippine nation. It puts into question in whose principles and ideals are we built, especially considering the recent events like the Chinese and the Philippine conflict over the West Philippine Sea,” Cohen said.
Duterte didn’t pursue a landmark ruling at the The Hague earlier this July, when the international court sided with the Philippines over a disputed area in the West Philippine Sea.
During his state visit to China last month, Duterte asked for Chinese leaders’ permission to allow Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough shoal, the contested area in the otherwise known South China Sea, that China had occupied.
Retired literature professor Susan Evangelista is married to a Filipino and has lived in the Philippines since the 1970s. All the effort to fight at The Hague, she says, has now been in vain.
“That is so sad. He would waste all that efforts that’s been made.”
Evangelista continued, “Now he is all happy because Filipino fishermen have permission to fish in Filipino waters.”
Evangelista says there is nothing wrong with pursuing an independent foreign policy.
“Basically I don’t think it’s objectionable to have more relations with more countries. I think that is desirable. If he feels that the US has been pressing too closely, move back,” said Evangelista.
Duterte’s strong anti-US stance, coupled with colourful words against the US leader and the Americans is puzzling many.
Susan Evangelista explains again:
“I find it especially offensive because of his anti-American rhetoric saying ‘I’m not gonna be your running dog’. Okay, ‘China can I be your running dog?’ If he really thinks that his relationship with the US is bad from that point of view and a lot of people would agree with that I’m sure. If he really thinks that, fine. But should he go into the same kind of relationship in 10 minutes?”
Retired government employee, 68-year-old Patricio Cojamco says it is a bad diplomatic move to side with China.
“The truth is there are more Filipinos who benefit from the US than China. The Chinese benefit from us, but we don’t,” Cojamco said.
Not everyone is negative about the China pivot, like young engineer Andres Solinap.
He is among the 16 million who voted for Duterte.
“That’s why he won because Filipinos trusted him. If he thinks aligning with China is wise, then maybe that is the best the Philippines. He is the president, we should just follow him.”
Will Duterte remain popular after the China pivot? With only three months in office so far, time will tell whether Filipinos are on Duterte’s side.